Education

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Billy Joel will receive an honorary degree at next month’s Stony Brook University commencement ceremony, slated for May 22 at LaValle Stadium. Photo from SBU

Billy Joel is coming to Stony Brook University.

Billy Joel will receive an honorary degree at next month’s Stony Brook University commencement ceremony, slated for May 22 at LaValle Stadium. Photo from SBU
Billy Joel will receive an honorary degree at next month’s Stony Brook University commencement ceremony, slated for May 22 at LaValle Stadium. Photo from SBU

The iconic singer and songwriter was named one of three luminaries who will receive honorary degrees at this year’s Stony Brook University commencement ceremony on May 22, along with renowned computer scientist Ben Shneiderman and Long Island businessman and philanthropist Charles Wang.

“This is a remarkable distinction for the Class of 2015, to be joined in their celebration by such a highly accomplished trio,” said Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. “It shows our new alumni how much can be achieved with vision, dedication and perseverance. These three individuals personify the relentless pursuit of excellence that Stony Brook embraces.”

Stony Brook University will be conferring honorary degrees to all three visitors, who will don academic regalia along with more than 6,000 students at the 55th annual commencement ceremony, slated for 11 a.m. at LaValle Stadium. Both Joel and Wang will speak at the ceremony, Stony Brook University said.

“I look forward to this commencement, as I’m sure does the entire Class of 2015, as they prepare to celebrate the culmination of their dedication, hard work, and their vision for what lies ahead,” Stanley said.

Joel, who was raised in Hicksville, is a singer-songwriter pianist and composer who has earned 23 Grammy Award nominations, six Grammy Awards, and an additional Grammy Legend Award to name only a few of his achievements.

Shneiderman, a two-time Stony Brook University alumnus and distinguished university professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, is a world-renowned computer scientist who has transformed his chosen field. Shneiderman will be speaking at a prestigious doctoral hooding ceremony the previous day, May 21, at 1 p.m. in the Island Federal Credit Union Arena.

Wang is co-founder of Computer Associates International — now CA Technologies — and owner of the New York Islanders ice hockey team. Born in Shanghai, China, he moved to Queens when he was 8 years old, and attended Brooklyn Technical High School. The Charles B. Wang Center at SBU was named in his honor.

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Vincent Ruggiero file photo

Two of the three community members who will be elected to the Port Jefferson school board on May 19 will be write-in candidates.

Paperwork that board hopefuls had to fill out in order to run for one of the three available seats next month was due on Monday, but only incumbent Vincent Ruggiero submitted a petition, according to District Clerk Janice Baisley. Board member Mark Doyle and Vice President Jim Laffey did not hand in paperwork to run for re-election, and no one from the community at large threw his or her hat in the ring for a three-year term on the school board.

Port Jefferson school district officials got advice from counsel, Baisley said, and “the next step is write-in candidates.”

According to Baisley, instructions on how to vote for a candidate who is not on the ballot will be posted in the voting booth on the day of the election. Pens will be provided at the booths.

Lone official candidate Ruggiero did not return a call seeking comment. He has served three years on the school board.

The teacher, 48, has lived in the district for eight years and has children in the district. When he first ran for the school board in 2012, he said his teaching experience would help Port Jefferson school district navigate difficult issues such as the Common Core Learning Standards. He also said he wanted to help the district find other sources of funding to ease the burden on taxpayers.

Doyle, who has served six years, said in an interview on Tuesday that he is not running for re-election because he has a new job that comes with more responsibility and traveling.

“I couldn’t guarantee 100 percent commitment to the board,” he said.

To the people who succeed him, he advised “it’s important for board members to have a broad perspective about the entire … community and not just bring their own personal points of view to the table.”

Laffey didn’t return a call for comment.

Stephen Waldenburg Jr. is running for Northport-East Northport school board next month. File photo by Rohma Abbas

With seven individuals in the running for three open seats, this year’s race for the Northport-East Northport school board vows to be a spirited contest.

From a 22-year-old Northport man looking to flex his political muscles to a 15-year veteran school board member vying for his sixth term, the slate spans a spectrum of backgrounds and candidates tout a range of experiences.

Tammie Topel is running for Northport-East Northport school board next month. Photo from the candidate
Tammie Topel is running for Northport-East Northport school board next month.
Photo from the candidate

“It’s going to be a party,” Stephen Waldenburg Jr., the long-serving board member who is seeking re-election said in a phone interview.

Three seats are open — those of board members David Badanes, James Maloney and Waldenburg.  Badanes and Waldenburg are running for re-election, while Maloney is not running, according to district clerk Beth Nystrom.

Other candidates running include former school board member Tammie Topel, Josh Muno, Peter Mainetti, David Stein and Michael “Bruno” Brunone.

In interviews this week, the candidates discussed issues including the Long Island Power Authority’s (LIPA) litigation challenging the value of the Northport power plant — a lawsuit that if settled unfavorably could mean double-digit percentage increases in taxes for district residents. Candidates also discussed the recent green-lighting of full-day kindergarten next year and the board’s recent budget decision to nix the district’s visual arts chairperson position in next year’s budget.

Stephen Waldenburg, Jr.
Waldenburg said he’s running for many reasons, but mainly to help newly appointed Superintendent Robert Banzer transition smoothly. Waldenburg has served on the board since 2000 and said he’s got some unfinished business, such as working on the LIPA litigation and ensuring the arts program isn’t impacted by the loss of the chairperson position. Waldenburg voiced opposition to the move. “I’m very concerned about that. I kind of want to be here to make certain the program isn’t allowed to diminish at all.”

Josh Muno is running for Northport-East Northport school board next month. Photo from the candidate
Josh Muno is running for Northport-East Northport school board next month.
Photo from the candidate

The veteran board member said he was instrumental in getting a robotics team established at the high school. He said he’s also got his eye on declining enrollments, which could prove to be “a very scary thing” for the district, particularly if buildings need to be closed.
Waldenburg works for American Technical Ceramic in Huntington Station as a customer service manager.

Tammie Topel
Former school board trustee Topel is looking to make a comeback.
The Northport resident, who was on the board up until last year, decided not to run again last year for personal and health reasons. If elected, she’d be interested in exploring cost savings in special education and working on the LIPA issue.
She said if she was on the school board she would have voted to axe the arts chairperson position as well, just based on numbers — most chairpeople at the district manage a department of 40 or so teachers, while the arts chairperson was managing a department of about 16 teachers, mostly veterans.
“My heart is really in Northport, in the school district, and I just want to be there again.”
Topel is the director of two nonprofits — K.i.d.s. Plus, which offers sports and therapeutic recreation programs for kids, and KIDS PLUS, which works with adults with disabilities.

David Stein is running for Northport-East Northport school board next month. Photo from the candidate
David Stein is running for Northport-East Northport school board next month.
Photo from the candidate

Josh Muno
The youngest out of the pool of candidates, Muno, 22, said he’s running because he feels the school board is “a little inactive on important issues.”
He’s critical of the Common Core Learning Standards and said he felt the curriculum doesn’t allow children to expand on their passions.
“The state, I think, is really overstepping their boundaries for this.”
Muno questions the need for the number of assistant superintendents currently at the district.
A Suffolk County Community College student, Muno lives in Northport and was raised by his grandmother. He works as a site safety captain at the Northport Hess gas station.

David Stein
Stein is credited with successfully lobbying the school board to bring about full-day kindergarten funding for next year’s budget. He started going to the meetings last year, interested in a state comptroller’s audit that claimed the district overestimated its expenses to the tune of millions over the course of several years.
“In short, I’m a big proponent of honest budgets. And I think that the prior administration … became fairly adept at adopting budgets that were not entirely transparent.”

Peter Mainetti is running for Northport-East Northport school board next month. Photo from the candidate
Peter Mainetti is running for Northport-East Northport school board next month.
Photo from the candidate

Stein said he feels the district’s been neglecting putting money into things it should, like its physical plant and sports facilities. He thinks the district needs capital improvements. He’s also interested in seeing school board term limits.
Stein is a retired New York City Police Department lieutenant.

Peter Mainetti
Mainetti said he’s running because, “I’m not happy with what the current board’s doing, quite simply.”
He said he was greatly disappointed by the school board’s decision to get rid of the arts chairperson position. He called it a “terrible decision.”
He said he doesn’t support the budget because he wants to send a message to the board that what they’re doing, particularly with the art and music program, is not acceptable. He’s in favor of greater community involvement at board meetings and wants more board-back efforts of community outreach.
Mainetti is a baker training specialist at Panera Bread. He lives in East Northport.

David Badanes is running for Northport-East Northport school board next month. Photo from the candidate
David Badanes is running for Northport-East Northport school board next month.
Photo from the candidate

David Badanes
In his first term, Badanes said he feels he’s brought about positive changes on the board.
He said he was heavily involved in the interview process that ultimately resulted in hiring the new superintendent, slated to start this summer.
Badanes also mentioned that he’s one of two trustees charged with overseeing teacher contract negotiations, and to that end there’s been a tentative resolution that has to be approved by both sides. “I think I was a positive person in that role,” Badanes said.
Badanes is also a member of the policy committee. Looking ahead, he wants to focus on resolving the LIPA litigation issue and keep offering a wide array of electives and opportunities at the high school.
Badanes is an attorney who practices mostly matrimonial, some criminal and a little bit of real estate law.

Michael “Bruno” Brunone
Brunone, born and raised in Northport, said he’s running because he wants to give back to a community about which he feels strongly.
Brunone said he believes the school board’s done a good job with the budget and he wants to step up to help out.

Mike Brunone is running for Northport-East Northport school board next month. Photo from the candidate
Mike Brunone is running for Northport-East Northport school board next month.
Photo from the candidate

“I think what I could bring to the board is I’m a good team player, and when it comes down to a board, I feel it’s all about coalition building,” he said.
He said he supports the decision to get rid of the arts chairperson position, and he’s also supportive of the decision to create full-day kindergarten at the district. He wants to focus on “the triple A” if elected — athletics, academics and the arts.
Brunone is the vice president of Huntington-based Taglich Brothers.

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Park View Elementary School. File photo

Kings Park Board of Education incumbents Charlie Leo and Diane Nally said they will seek another term on the board, while newcomer Kevin Johnston threw his hat into the race with hopes of snagging a seat after the May 19 election.

Charlie Leo is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco
Charlie Leo is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco

Charlie Leo
Leo, who serves on the board as vice president, said he was seeking another term because of a pleasant experience with the district, and to make time to tackle several different issues in another term.
One of his goals is to bring tablets into the school, which he said would reduce costs by going paperless. He also would like to work on reducing class size throughout the district, he said.
“I am running for re-election because I see that it matters,” Leo said. “Local government is very important and there is still work to be done.”
One of the heated issues that has been brought up at board meetings over the last few weeks has been the voice parents feel the board is lacking when it comes to standardized testing.
Leo said he fully supports the district parents’ right to opt their children out of the English Language Arts, science and math standardized tests that come from the state Education Department.
“It’s a parent’s choice to opt out,” Leo said.

Diane Nally is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco
Diane Nally is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco

Diane Nally
Nally has held the position of trustee for three years and is seeking re-election to take on some unfinished business, she said.
“I am seeking re-election because it has been a pleasure serving the Kings Park community as a trustee,” Nally said. “We have a great district and community.”
The trustee has been very vocal about the need for a librarian at the district’s two elementary schools. Currently, there is no librarian at Park View and Fort Salonga elementary schools and that is something Nally would like to change.
“There are many issues that still need to be resolved,” Nally said. “I would like to be a part of that. I have a lot to offer.”
Nally said there are many issues with public education and she would like to be an advocate for the district if re-elected. She also said she would like to tackle lowering class size on the elementary and secondary levels.

Kevin Johnston is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco
Kevin Johnston is running for a spot on the Kings Park Board of Education. Photo from Patti Capobianco

Kevin Johnston
Johnston is currently a teacher at Kings Park High School and is hoping to gain a seat on the board this summer.
The English teacher is retiring in June and said he is hoping to take his newfound time and put it toward helping the community by serving on the board.
“I still want to put out the best education while recognizing the ability of the community to fund this education,” Johnston said.
Johnston said he has inside experience that he can bring to the board as he not only lives in the community but also taught within the district for 34 years.
If elected, he said he would like to work on technology improvements and lowering class size. He also said he would look for other sources of funding including an alumni committee and grant funding.
“I understand the need to raise the high bar in education for college readiness,” Johnston said. “As a board member I feel I can have a stronger voice in promoting Kings Park education.”
The father of two Kings Park High School graduates said the district does a very good job educating students but he believes “we can do a better job if I’m on the school board.”

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V.P. Donna Compagnone not seeking re-election

File photo

After 12 years, Mount Sinai school board Vice President Donna Compagnone decided her fourth term on the board would be her last.

In a phone interview on Monday, Compagnone reflected on her tenure fondly, describing the experience as “heartwarming and fun” and an “honor.”

“Most of all I got to see the kids, so many of them go from kindergarten to graduation.”

As both of her children have graduated from the district, Compagnone said it was just time.

But her seat won’t stay empty, as four candidates, including incumbent Lynn Capobianco, submitted petitions to run for two open seats on the board. Also running are newcomers Michael Riggio, John DeBlasio and Joanne Rentz.

Lynn Capobianco. Photo from the candidate
Lynn Capobianco. Photo from the candidate

Lynn Capobianco
Running for her second term, Capobianco, 65, said three years serving on the board doesn’t feel like a very long time.
“Lots of exciting things have started and I wanted to continue the momentum that has begun,” she said in a recent phone interview.
One of the exciting items is full-day kindergarten. Capobianco, who is a retired school librarian, said that as an early childhood educator she was happy to be part of the full-day kindergarten forums and felt it was important to discuss the program, which is included in the district’s proposed 2015-16 school year budget.
Having worked in the Mount Sinai school district, Capobianco said she is very familiar with the schools and staff, which is an advantage.
Looking toward the future, Capobianco said she wants to continue to watch Mount Sinai grow and evolve, while remaining fiscally sound.
“I would like to see our high school bring back some of the clubs,” she said.
She has her sights set on adding an in-house robotics club. Her dream would be to have a science research program at the high school.
Capobianco has lived in the district for 25 years with her husband, Kerry, and their three boys — two attending Mount Sinai schools and one who graduated.

Mike Riggio. Photo from the candidate
Mike Riggio. Photo from the candidate

Mike Riggio
After retiring from the New York City Police Department last year, Riggio, who was second in command of the department’s counterterrorism unit, is making his first run for the school board. The 42-year-old father of a Mount Sinai fourth-grader said he is running for a number of reasons, but his focus is on students’ safety.
“There are some serious security concerns and this is what I used to do for a living,” Riggio said in a phone interview.
In addition, Riggio said he would use his background and experience managing $150 million worth of programs that kept New York City safe to make sure the district remains fiscally sound.
“We want more for our school,” Riggio said. “So how do you work on paying for that?”
One solution would be to reach beyond the immediate community and look for other funding opportunities, such as grants, and continue to advocate for his district at the state level. As a department head, Riggio said he worked with local congressmen to help get things done.
“We need to work with them,” he said.
Riggio and his wife, Eileen, have lived in Mount Sinai since 2006. He currently serves as coach for his daughters Infant Jesus basketball team and the Mount Sinai lacrosse team.

John DeBlasio. Photo from the candidate
John DeBlasio. Photo from the candidate

John DeBlasio
As a father to triplets in Mount Sinai schools, DeBlasio said he understands the demands the district is facing when it comes to educational changes and staying fiscally healthy.
“I want to be part of the process to help shape the budget,” DeBlasio, 54, said in a phone interview.
Finances are the Ronkonkoma-based attorney’s main focus in his run for school board. He said that the issue isn’t “black and white,” as districts struggle to budget without state aid numbers and try to project for the future. However, he said that he believes the district has to try to work within budgetary constraints.
“It’s just trying to become more efficient with the money you do have while maintaining school programs,” he said.
As an attorney, DeBlasio said his experiences would help him as a trustee, especially during budget season and when the district is negotiating contracts.
DeBlasio, husband to Kim, has lived in the district for 14 years. He serves as a coach for Mount Sinai lacrosse. He also has two stepsons.
At the end of the day, DeBlasio has just one request for his fellow residents.
“I would hope people would come out and vote.”

Joanne Rentz. Photo from the candidate
Joanne Rentz. Photo from the candidate

Joanne Rentz
Understanding the huge commitment of what it takes to be a school board trustee, Rentz is ready and excited to take on the job.
“We are a small community and a large family-based community,” Rentz, 51, said. “A lot of how we interact and how we relate to one another is through our kids and through the school.”
Rentz said she feels like she would add a good perspective to the board, as she has experience in sales management as a small business owner and in education. Currently, Rentz, who has a fourth-grade son in the district, works as a brand director for a media publishing company. In the past, she owned a FasTracKids center, which provided enrichment programs to young learners.
The programs aim to challenge students while also strengthening their problem-solving skills and making them lifelong learners, she said. The goal may sound similar to that of the Common Core Learning Standards, and Rentz said she supports that idea. However, she questioned how developmentally appropriate the standards are and how they were implemented.
“I think it is a great idea,” she said. “I think that the implementation of the program in its entirety needs to be reexamined.”
If elected, Rentz said she wants to work to see a curriculum that supports the district’s competitive edge and enables students to be successful after graduation, whether they go off to college or start a career right away.
Rentz has lived in the district for six years with her husband, Larry, and their fourth-grade son. She also has four grown stepchildren.

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John Swenning is running for a board seat. Photo from the candidate

Three Comsewogue Board of Education seats are up for election this year, but voters who hit the polls on May 19 won’t have a large selection — with Trustee Ed Barry stepping aside, there are only as many candidates as there are slots available.

Barry, a nine-year veteran, said he wants to give others a chance to fill the position he has loved holding.
“It really has been a great experience,” Barry said. “I may consider running again down the road.”

John Swenning
Board President John Swenning has served since 2002 and is running for another term on the board. The Comsewogue graduate said his time with the board has been great, which is why he is running again.
The father of four — one child at Comsewogue High School and three who have already graduated — said he enjoys working with administrators, teachers, parents and students.
“I just like what I do,” Swenning said. “We’ve really made some serious progress in the first few years and I want to keep it going.”

Rick Rennard is running for a board seat. Photo from the candidate
Rick Rennard is running for a board seat. Photo from the candidate

One of the things Swenning would like to see through is the accreditation from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools that the district applied for last year. The district is undergoing a three-year internal review on the road to receiving the nonprofit’s designation, given to high-performing institutions worldwide.
The board president also wants to restore programs that were cut in recent years to balance budgets.

Rick Rennard
Rick Rennard just finished his first year on the board, completing the term of a former trustee who moved out of the district.
“This one-year experience that I’ve had so far has been so positive,” he said. “I want to continue.”
He said he would like to finish some things the board started this year, such as the accreditation process. He echoed Swenning in saying he wants to restore academic programs.
He also “would like to continue to speak out on behalf of the district to our legislators to get our fair share of funding,” Rennard said. “I will fight for the district.”
The father of three children, 11-year-old Emma, 9-year-old Rickey and 7-year-old Brendan, and a social studies teacher at Newfield High School, he’s been living in the community for almost 11 years.

Louise Melious is running for a board seat. Photo from the candidate
Louise Melious is running for a board seat. Photo from the candidate

Louise Melious
A newcomer, Louise Melious, has decided to run for trustee after years of being on the fence about serving.
“I think I have something to offer and I certainly hope the community can give me this honor,” Melious said.
She has been following the issue of students opting out of taking the state’s standardized tests, she said, and while her children, 18-year-old Victoria and 16-year-old Matthew, are past that testing stage, she would advocate on behalf of other students. She said she feels the testing system is wrong.
If elected, she would like to work on tax relief for older residents, expand district sports programs, and restore other programs that were cut in previous budgets.
“If given this opportunity, I would change what I do and be more involved,” Melious said.

BOE President Karen Lessler seeks sixth term

Karen Lessler is running unopposed for the Middle Country Board of Education. File photo by Erika Karp

When hitting the ballots in May, community members will be voting on more than the budget. They will also vote for Middle Country Board of Education trustees who will run the school board, help shape future budgets and make sure proper programs are in place. There are three seats open this year and three incumbent board members are running unopposed.

Karen Lessler
President Karen Lessler is up for re-election and the 15-year veteran said she is seeking another three years in office.
Lessler has held the position of president since 2003 and said being on the school board is a passion of hers.
“I’m very committed to being a child activist,” Lessler said in a phone interview.
The Kings Park school district teacher has been living in the community for 34 years and has had a son and stepson graduate from Centereach High School.
Lessler has been vocal about the fight to keep public education alive and critical of recent changes in education proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).
If re-elected, Lessler said she would continue to be fiscally responsible for the community and fight for students.
“I think the issues I continue to focus on are the needs of students and making them good citizens,” Lessler said.

James Macomber is running unopposed for the Middle Country Board of Education. Photo from Middle Country school district
James Macomber is running unopposed for the Middle Country Board of Education. Photo from Middle Country school district

Rev. James Macomber
James Macomber moved to Centereach in 2010 and has served on the board for the last three years.
Currently, Macomber is chair of the educational advancement commission, which spearheaded the science, technology, engineering and math program, which is commonly referred to as STEM. Macomber has been very involved in the STEM program as he feels it provides students with the tools they need to be successful.
Macomber is seeking re-election as he enjoys the community he serves and the board he works with. He called it one of the strongest board of educations around.
“It’s a satisfying way to give back to the community,” Macomber said. “I’ve always been a fan of public education.”
If re-elected, Macomber said he would continue his work to advance the STEM program and work to create partnerships and internships through local businesses for the students in the district.
Macomber, a Vietnam veteran, previously taught business at the University of Tennessee, and has lived in Ohio, Tennessee, New Mexico and Georgia. He has four adult children who have graduated from other school districts.

Arlene Barresi is running unopposed for the Middle Country Board of Education. Photo from Middle Country school district
Arlene Barresi is running unopposed for the Middle Country Board of Education. Photo from Middle Country school district

Arlene Barresi
Arlene Barresi has been on the board for the last nine years and is seeking a fourth term.
Barresi said she has enjoyed her time on the board and is hoping to get a chance at another term.
“We’re in a good place now,” she said. “We have our bond and I want to see it through.”
Last November, the community approved an approximately $125 million bond for capital improvements and security upgrades to the district’s 15 schools.
“We’ve come through very hard times and now we’re doing good, and I want to be a part of that,” Barresi said.
In the past, the district has faced aid cuts, which forced the board and the district to make some cuts. The district, like many across Long Island, is beginning to slowly restore offerings and Barresi hopes to be part of it. On her wish list: an art and music teacher for kindergarten students. Currently, kindergarten teachers provide instruction on the subjects.
Barresi added that she would like to provide younger students who are struggling with additional help, instead of letting problems progress. In addition, she wants high school students to be prepared for life after they graduate, regardless of their path.
“I would like to see more technology programs so people are not only college ready but career ready,” she said.

Rally against New York State education changes

A protestor stands on North Country Road in Mount Sinai on Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Barbara Donlon

Educators, parents and students gathered outside state Sen. Ken LaValle’s Mount Sinai office Tuesday with one clear message: They won’t forget he voted “yes” on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget when it’s their turn to vote in November 2016.

Nearly 100 people rallied in front of the North Country Road office of LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), holding signs letting the senator and the community know they were upset he voted in favor of a portion of the 2015-16 state budget that amended the teacher evaluation system, lengthened the time before teachers can gain tenure and created new designations for failing schools.

Beth Dimino, president of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association and a John F. Kennedy Middle School teacher, said her association and other groups coordinated the protest to show the senator they don’t take his vote lightly.

“The purpose of this rally is to remind Mr. LaValle that his vote in favor of Mr. Cuomo’s budget and anti-public education agenda will be remembered by the parents and taxpayers in the November elections,” Dimino said.

A child hoists a sign during a public education protest. Photo by Barbara Donlon
A child hoists a sign during a public education protest. Photo by Barbara Donlon

LaValle, who was in Albany at the time of the protest, was just re-elected to his 20th term in the Senate and will be up for election again next year.

He said in a statement Wednesday, “We improved on what the governor put in his budget proposal and I fully expect we will continue to fix the education piece, with the final result addressing parents and educators concerns.”

April Quiggle, a Port Jefferson parent, said she came out to show how disappointed she is in the senator she always supported.

“I feel betrayed by him,” Quiggle said.

Not one person at the education rally was without a sign. Young children also held signs.

Miller Place resident Erik Zalewski, who teaches in the Middle Country school district, said LaValle and other politicians who voted in favor of the governor’s reform sold out educators and kids.

“It seems money is more important than the children,” Zalewski said.

Lucille McKee, president of the Shoreham-Wading River Teachers Association, joined in to let everyone know she is tired of non-educators making decisions about education.

Halfway through the rally supporters broke out in a cheer: “Ken LaValle you let us down, Ken LaValle you let the students down, Ken LaValle we will not forget!”

Many parents at the picket said they tried numerous times to reach out to the senator by phone and email and never heard back.

Hundreds of cars drove by as everyone protested on the corner of the road. Drivers honked, gave thumbs-up signs and cheered, letting the protesters know they supported them.

The Huntington library is packed with people reading, studying and doing other work. File photo

Voters in the Huntington Public Library district overwhelmingly approved an $8.9 million budget for next year that stays within a state-mandated cap on property tax levy increases.

Residents also elected a new library trustee, Pat McKenna Bausch, knocking eight-year incumbent Harriet Spitzer off the board.

In total, 423 voted in favor of the budget and 88 voted against it, according to library director Joanne Adam.

“I feel wonderful,” Adam said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “Of course, I’m happy that it passed. I think what makes me even more happy is the amount that it passed by.”

Bausch was the top vote-getter in a contest of three vying for one seat. Candidate Yvette Stone earned 53 votes and incumbent Spitzer amassed 174 votes.

Looking forward, Adam is most excited about renovations at the library’s Main Street branch, which include reconfiguring some spaces and updating the building’s lighting, heating and ventilation.

“Redoing the space, I think, will kind of just give us a nice facelift.”

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Lowered tax levy increase allows district to deliver classroom upgrades, restored programs, positions

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich says next year’s budget will allow for more balanced and smaller classroom sizes in the Three Village School District. File photo

By Andrea Moore Paldy

It was welcomed news for Three Village residents when they learned the community’s school district lowered its projected tax levy increase for the upcoming school year. The good news continued with the balancing and lowering of class sizes and restoration of some programs that fell victim to previous budget cuts.

The announcement came at the district’s most recent board meeting, during which the Three Village school board adopted a $188 million budget for the 2015-16 school year. Three Village will be able to lower the tax levy increase because of a $1.65 million bump in aid — $830,000 more than previously budgeted — assistant superintendent for business services Jeff Carlson said. Originally set at 2.93 percent, the district’s new cap on the tax levy increase is 2.79 percent.

Aid from the state includes a $1.86 million restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a measure that deducts money from aid packages to fund the state’s budget. Three Village will still see a loss of $3.3 million to the state. Over the six years since the institution of the GEA, the district has lost $32,422,271 — the equivalent of $2,398 for the average taxpayer, Carlson said.

While the .81 percent budget-to-budget increase works out to about $1 million more in expenses, the tax levy will go up $3.89 million. This is because the district will be depending less on its applied fund balance, Carlson said. Instead of budgeting $6.5 million from the district’s reserves, Carlson said last month that he would budget only between $2 million and $2.5 million.

Decreases to major expenses like contributions to retirement systems and healthcare are also responsible for the district’s positive financial forecast. Next school year, Three Village will see a $3.6 million drop in its retirement contributions and a $1 million decrease — that’s 5 percent — in its health insurance costs.

Three Village also benefits from increased revenue from tuition for non-residents attending its special education programs and the Three Village Academy. This year’s tuition generated $1.2 million.

Though declining enrollment in the elementary schools would allow the district to shed seven to eight teaching positions, the administration is choosing to balance class sizes instead.

“We believe in the importance of balancing class size and lowering those class sizes that are in the 25, 26, 27 range,” Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said. “It is not helpful in any way to our younger students.”

Three classroom positions, along with the two positions from the Pi enrichment program that ends this year, will be converted to STEM specialist positions.

“Enrichment should be for all children in grades K through 6,” Pedisich said.

The appointed science and math specialists will be in each school to work with classroom teachers and provide both enrichment and remediation for students who need it, she added.

The administration is adding another .9 full-time equivalent (FTE) position, so that health — currently only offered to sixth graders — can be taught to fourth through sixth graders.  And an additional .5 FTE social worker position is being added so that each elementary school can have a full-time social worker.

This move is “critical to issues such as bullying” and preventative work, Pedisich said.

There will be small staffing increases at the junior and senior highs to balance classes, decrease study halls and increase electives, she said. Carlson said the cost for these additions will be covered by retirements.

Departments that will benefit include technology, English, foreign language, guidance, health, math, science and social studies.

The American Sign Language class, which was popular before it was cut two years ago, will again be offered by the foreign language department, while a computer programming class will be added to the math department. The district will also add 1.2 FTEs for English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers — to comply with a new state mandate — and it will add another 1.3 FTE to guidance for counseling.

There will be additions to the clerical staff, as well as to maintenance and operations, in order to lower overtime costs and outside contractors, Carlson said. There will also be additional security during the day and for evening activities, he added.

The superintendent said that the district will restructure its current administration to create new roles without the need for additional staff. Some positions expected to be restored include the coordinating chair for music, an assistant director for health and physical education, an assistant director for pupil personnel services, coordinating chair for junior high foreign language and district-wide ESL and an assistant director for instructional technology.

The assistant director for instructional technology will help the district prepare for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, as well as help determine how to spend the money Three Village receives from the Smart Schools Bond that passed in November.  The $2 billion bond is earmarked for pre-K classrooms, wireless and broadband systems, safety and security technology and classroom technology across the state. Carlson said the district’s share will be close to $3.4 million.

An approved government efficiency plan that shows a 1 percent savings to the tax levy — while also staying within the tax cap — will make residents eligible for another tax rebate check, Carlson said.

The budget vote will take place from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., May 19 at the district’s elementary schools.

Superintendent
In other news, the board voted to reappoint the superintendent for another three years.

“I have to say, never in all my years have we had a superintendent of schools as respected and beloved by this community as Cheryl Pedisich,” said school board President Bill Connors, who has served on the board for 15 of the past 21 years.

Pedisich, who started in Three Village in 1984 as a guidance counselor at Ward Melville High School, was visibly moved by the standing ovation she received.

“I really am very overwhelmed,” she said. “I have spent my entire career here and I could not think of a place I would consider going…. My heart and my soul belong to this community, and you definitely have me 110 percent.”

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